Estimated reading time:7 minutes, 33 seconds
Everyone has a story. Architect Simon Moore spent most of his working life designing and building huge modern buildings â€“ from the Eden Project in Cornwall to underground tube stations â€“ until his dream to run a neighbourhood restaurant where people meet up for tasty plates of food could no longer be resisted. Find out more in this interviewÂ by Nicola BairdÂ & Isabel VanderGert-Wilson.
â€śIâ€™d worked as an architect since university, often working from my home in Gillespie Road. I liked to go out to Litro on Drayton Park with its eclectic mix of music and good beer. It wasnâ€™t a pub or a restaurant but it started me thinking about doing something a bit less solitary,â€ť says Simon Moore from the bright corner of his new venture, the Highbury Arts Club.
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Back in the 1920s this was a shoe shop run by, as the just-visible sign says, F J Bullings. More recently the building on the corner of Highbury Park and Lucerne Road has been an Italian deli â€“ famously frequented by Tony Blair during his Highbury days. It then became the Clock CafĂ© until Simon took on the lease in 2013Â to create a neighbourhood restaurant.
â€śI wanted somewhere to go in the evening where you could drink or eat. I like the idea of small plates of food and could have settled on Swedish or Italian dishes but itâ€™s ended up being tapas â€“ which I really like,â€ť he says.
Highbury Arts ClubÂ serves Square MileÂ roasted coffee, sourced nearÂ Borough Market, and delicious cakes â€“ made by barista/chef Tomoko – by day.
At the weekend itâ€™s all about brunch, and from Tuesday-SaturdayÂ evenings you can pop in for pincho (small tapas plates of chorizo, tortilla, peppers and cheese at around ÂŁ5) and specials such as cuttle fish. Drinks include freshÂ juice mixes, craft lager (eg, Organic Freedom beer) and organic or biodynamic European wines.
“We only use European wines – from France, Portugal, Spain and Italy – Â to help the European wine industry. It seems crazy to ship new world wines. Our wines are from Â sustainable viniculture and mostly organic or with as few additives as possible. You’ll be able to try wines here that you won’t get inÂ the supermarket,” says Simon.
With only room for 32 what makes Highbury Arts Club special is the communal table and the home-cooked food. â€śIâ€™m really interested in art and music so as an architect Iâ€™ve tried to put every idea into one little room,â€ť says Simon laughing as he admits, â€śitâ€™s a bit bonkers!â€ť But the result is live music on Thursdays and one Wednesday a month thereâ€™s comedy from Shake the Tree by Islington locals Sarah SheldonÂ and Nalika de Silva.
Some nights the venue is booked out for a party. â€śPeople say they feel completely at home because it feels like a large room in your own house,â€ť adds Simon.
Places Simon Moore likes in Islington
- I remember getting on the 19 bus without knowing where it went. Then it went up Blackstock Road and I saw all these brightly coloured shops. A couple of years later my partner andÂ I were looking for a place and ended up on Gillespie Road, close to the 19 route.
- Â I play a lot of tennis at Highbury Fields. My two sons grew up on Highbury fields kicking a football around.â€ť
- Â I really enjoy football days. The football crowd often books ahead and will have a nice meal here before the game.
- Â My favourite cafĂ© in the area is the Japanese cafĂ©, Little Gem, on Corsica Street.
- Dotori, the Korean restaurant at Finsbury Park is good.
- For fish I go to Billingsgate and use local suppliers â€“ Meek and Wilde and for meat Smithfield MarketÂ and DavidÂ at Highbury Butchers (see the interview published on Islington Faces with David Mayers here). I get vegetables from Seasons & Blossoms, 92 Highbury Park, and Mrs Lovellsâ€™ Greengrocers, as well as markets.
- I used to organise the Jazz on a Summer’s Day at the Sailing Club, on the West Reservoir. For ÂŁ140 a year you can sail and get all the kit – you don’t need to buy a boat or even a wetsuit.
The artistic atmosphere gets an extra fillip from its art wall, which carries a large gilded mirror and an empty frame unless thereâ€™s an exhibition. The next exhbitionÂ will be by Hendrik WittkopfÂ starting July (2015).
Itâ€™s a big change from Simon’sÂ architecture career which included projects all over the world including Australia and more recently working on the award-winning Biljmer station in Holland, close to Ajaxâ€™s ground in Amsterdam. He was also on the team that won a coveted RIBA award for UCLâ€™s Cancer Institute on Huntley Street. Simon has also worked on the Jubilee line extension underground stations at Waterloo, London Bridge and Southwark. â€śLondon Bridge is full of vaults, some 10m high and huge. We were told one was where the Queen kept her wine, but the bottles were moved out so we could build the station,â€ť says Simon. â€śThe Jubilee extension is very contemporary â€“ theÂ tunnels were the largest ever built in London at the time -and there are screen doors. It was specifically done to regenerate the areas it went through.â€ť
Now heâ€™s using the same mindset to give Highbury a community focus. â€śMy big ideas is this is a local hub of food with people hanging out enjoying creative moments like parties, music and food,â€ť he explains. And heâ€™s on the look out for more ways people can use Highbury Arts Club to enjoy themselves. â€śWe could have poetry evenings or film clubs meeting here,â€ť he says pointing to the fitting for a projector on the ceiling.
In many ways Simonâ€™s already achieved his dream: his neighbourhood restaurant is all about food and chat.Â â€śI didnâ€™t realise how much I was going to enjoy hospitality,â€ť says Simon who is up at the Highbury Arts Club most nights, although he also employs eight people â€“ deliberately picking artists, musicians and jewellery makers with a bent for barista work and chefing because they â€śare such good performers in careers where it is quite hard to make a living.â€ť
Highbury Arts Club isÂ a lovely place to visit whether for coffee and chef Tomokoâ€™s famous cakes on a sunny morning or an evening sharing tapas and wine. And itâ€™s a friendly place Â â€“ one of the few you can go to in Islington and know that youâ€™ll be able to join in a conversation (if you want to!).
- Highbury Arts Club, 73 Highbury Park, N5. Check website for opening times (closed on Mondays). Breakfasts from 10am. Most Thursdays there is jazz starting at aroundÂ 7.45pm.Â http://highburyartsclub.com/Â @highburyartsclb facebookÂ
- @shaketreecomedy @nalikadesilva @sarahsheldon
- Enjoy the art exhibition in July, more work atÂ http://hendrikwittkopf.com/
Over to you
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This blog is inspired byÂ Spitalfields LifeÂ written by the Gentle Author.
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